Panerai began making watches in Florence, Italy back in 1860, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the firm produced its first wristwatch. By then its roots in Florence were as deep as those in Switzerland, where Panerai watches were produced.
The breakthrough for the company was an order for diving watches from the Italian Navy, for whom Panerai had been creating instruments of various types since the turn of the century. With a war coming on, the navy was keen to outfit its elite corps of frogmen with wristwatches.
Featuring a Rolex movement, the limited-edition Panerai Radiomir (only 300 were made) was designed for use by commandos and torpedo riders—frogmen who rode a slow-moving torpedo toward a target before attaching a timed mine to the underside of a ship and then riding away. The watches had a cushion-shaped case, a screw-down crown to keep water out of the movement, and oiled-leather straps that were long enough to be worn on the outside of a diving suit. Given their limited supply and the tough conditions they were subjected to, these watches are very highly prized by collectors today.
The watch took its name, Radiomir, from the luminous material that Panerai first developed in 1910. Made of zinc sulphide and radium bromide, Radiomir allowed the numbers and hands on a watch to be read in dark conditions. It was replaced in 1949 by Luminor, which glows thanks to the presence of tritium, a less-dangerous compound than radium bromide.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Panerai continued to produce wristwatches for the Italian Navy in regular and destro (left-handed) versions. Some watches from this period were known as Trittico watches, thanks to their trio of features, which included a depth gauge.
Panerai also made Kampfschwimmer watches, some with so-called California dials (numbers on the bottom, Roman numerals on the top), for Germany’s only postwar commando unit. And in 1956, Panerai created a large-face Radiomir watch for the Egyptian Navy.
Panerai might have remained a military diving watch in the minds of the public had it not been for Sylvester Stallone, who, in 1995, purchased a Luminor while on location in Italy. Sales of the watches jumped after its debut in Stallone’s “Daylight,” and Sly even had some watches—dubbed Slytech—made with his signature engraved on the back. These he gave as gifts to friends, including fellow action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Recent News: Panerai Watches
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Radiomir 1940 Equation of Time, 8 DaysWorld Tempus, March 4th
The inclusion of this complication does not alter the classic Panerai design of the the watch, housed in the Radiomir 1940 case, made of AISI 361L stainless steel – an alloy that is particularly resistant to corrosion – with a polished finish, and...Read more
Officine Panerai Sponsors Sailing Heals' First Children's Sail in Coconut GroveHaute Living, March 3rd
On Sunday, a very special event took place in the waters off of Coconut Grove. To celebrate their annual sponsorship of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge North American Circuit, Officine Panerai got together with their official charity partner...Read more
CORRECTED - Officine Panerai drops prices in Hong Kong as euro weakensSouth China Morning Post (subscription), February 27th
(Changes 20 per cent price cut to 5 per cent price cut in lead paragraph, replaces quote in second paragraph. A corrected repetition of the story follows below). Luxury European watch brand Officine Panerai has dropped its prices in Hong Kong by 5 per...Read more
SIHH 2015 Part 3: Parmigiani, Piaget, Panerai, Ralph LaurenForbes, February 19th
I'm a one-time daily newspaper reporter who now writes about high-end jewelry, the finest timepieces, luxury and fashion. It seems remarkable when looking back, but, at the same time, it feels quite normal. My first magazine job was with a design and ...Read more
The Making of an Officine Panerai WatchBLOUIN ARTINFO, February 17th
Officine Panerai's historic Florence boutique in Piazza San Giovanni, which was opened in 1860, recently got a facelift and to celebrate the occasion, the Italian watchmaker has released the Radiomir Firenze 3 Days Acciaio. The limited edition of 99...Read more
Mare Nostrum Titanio 52mmWorld Tempus (press release), February 15th
In 1943, the Panerai family created the “Mare Nostrum” chronograph for the deck officers of the Royal Italian Navy “Mare Nostrum”. This name had already been used by Guido Panerai in 1924 for what was probably the first Panerai chronograph, but all...Read more
Viva Italia! Panerai Radiomir Firenze 3 Days AcciaioQuill & Pad, February 15th
The Italians are a decorative people, with a history of art and design going back hundreds and even thousands of years. Notable artistic works date all the way back to the Etruscans of 900 to 200 B.C.E., while the most famous period is the Italian...Read more
Officine Panerai Announces 2015 Calendar for Panerai Classic Yachts ChallengeSENATUS, February 10th
The 28th edition of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge which the Florentine luxury sports watch-maker is sponsoring for the 11th consecutive year, gets underway in April with the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, from the 15th to 21st. Dozens of boats...Read more